UNICEF Executive Director visits Israel and occupied Palestinian territory
© UNICEF oPt/2009/El Baba
Executive Director Ann M. Veneman with a girl at a UNICEF-supported psychosocial counselling session for children in Beit Lahia, Gaza.
JERUSALEM, 7 March 2009 – UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman on Saturday concluded a week-long Middle-East mission that included field visits to the West Bank, southern Israel and Gaza, where she saw the effects of the recent conflict.
“Children are the innocent victims of conflict,” said Veneman. “Schools have been damaged, homes lost and many children carry physical and psychological wounds.”
Veneman talked directly with Palestinian and Israeli children affected by the recent hostilities during visits to a partially damaged school, a pediatric hospital and a psychosocial counseling centre in Gaza, as well as a school in Sderot.
Schools in Gaza were heavily impacted with 10 severely damaged and 168 partially damaged. Schools have also been hit in southern Israel.
Veneman stressed the need for unrestricted access for supplies and personnel into Gaza, for humanitarian and early recovery efforts. Urgent needs in Gaza include construction materials to rebuild schools, hospitals, clinics and homes; supplies to rehabilitate water and sanitation networks, as well as educational items.
Since the onset of the crisis, UNICEF support has included emergency medical supplies, repairs to water and sanitation facilities, the provision of safe water, hygiene material and therapeutic food, as well as psychosocial support to children, their caregivers and frontline workers. UNICEF has also delivered educational supplies to enable students and their teachers to return to their classrooms as quickly as possible.
“Children have remarkable resilience,” said Veneman. “They need proper care, education, protection and support to bring back normalcy into their lives. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.”
Veneman met with senior officials including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as well as Israeli Minister of Social Welfare, Isaac Herzog, and the Head of the Israeli Supreme Court Dorit Beinisch.
In the first leg of her visit, Veneman visited innovative programmes in Jordan that are working to improve education standards and reduce violence in schools. She also met with Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, UNICEF’s Eminent Advocate for Children.
About the UNICEF Executive Director
Ann M. Veneman assumed the leadership of UNICEF on 1 May 2005, becoming the fifth Executive Director to lead UNICEF in its 60-year history. Prior to joining UNICEF, Veneman served as Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. At UNICEF, Veneman directs a global agency of over 10,000 staff and annual total resources of more than $3 billion, funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of governments, businesses, foundations and individuals. Since assuming the position of Executive Director, she has traveled around the world, witnessing firsthand the work of UNICEF, speaking at meetings and conferences, and visiting heads of state or government and other partners.